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Birdsongs of the Mesozoic — Petrophonics
(Cuneiform Rune 179, 2000, CD)

Petrophonics Cover art

Ever since I first heard this band back in the early 80s, I’ve been fascinated by their style: rock instrumentation playing challenging music which is not based in the conventions of rock and roll, sort of like what Stravinsky would do with a drum kit, electric guitar, and electronic organ. In fact they covered part of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” on an early album. Over the decades, the band has expanded their scope to touch on rock styles (like the spy-theme guitar on this disc’s title track) and experienced some personnel changes, but the basic esthetic has not changed. Pianist Erik Lindgren is still the dominant player (and majority composer), but Birdsongs would not be Birdsongs without the other players. Ken Field’s saxophones provide both melody and edge; Michael Bierylo’s guitar is by turns melodic and sound effect; Rick Scott’s contributions on synthesizer and “sound design” are a little hard to but a finger on, but essential none the less, comprising (I suppose) all the non-piano keyboard parts. In spite of the lack of a permanent drummer, rhythm parts are an integral part of the band’s sound, from the driving drum machine of “Petrophonics” to the atmospheric noises of “Study of Unintended Consequences” to the massed pounding toms of “The Insidious Revenge of Ultima Thule, Part One.” The main thing that sets this release apart from the other Birdsongs albums is an attention to ambiance. Even in the faster tunes, there is a fullness to the sound and incredible richness of detail I don’t hear in previous efforts, fine as they were. Listen to Petrophincs closely and a multitude of great little touches will become apparent. This is a sure bet for the top of my year’s best list, and I could easily go on much longer about its wonders.

by Jon Davis, Published 2001-03-01

It has been five years since the last Birdsongs release, Dancing on A’a, and the group has a lot to show for it. Their newest is a 66-minute album in three components: the CD’s first seven songs, four themes of “Music Inspired by 1001 Real Apes,” and three parts of “The Insidious Revenge of Ultima Thule.” The first seven tracks bear a sound both familiar from prior releases and strikingly novel, a wonderfully inventive amalgam of chamber rock, modern classical, cyclical patterns, tropical rhythms, and more. The challenging compositional ideas are densely realized by a large palate of piano, guitar, sax, occasional percussion, and lots of multi-timbral electronics. The instrumental counterpoint is difficult to absorb fully at first, yet the strong melodic emphasis in the early tracks helps one hook in and begin to reap the rewards almost instantly. At the beginning of the second segment, Ken Field switches from sax to flute, and does not return much to the former until the end of the CD. This change in tonal coloring marks a distinct passage into a suite written by Erik Lindgren that is a complex symphonic work, with a nod to a more academic approach. Its most intense and least lavish moment is the relentless “Dinosaurs Theme,” which riffs along like a Magma offshoot. It is the second of four advanced pieces of music, each worth a paragraph in their own right. The final segment, also by Lindgren, actually follows quite smoothly from the second, but brings back a bit more of the rock energy in the first part, only to brood until the finale, an angular dirge that moves out slowly. With each successive play, this album reveals its complexly laden charms. An astonishing and satisfying release.

by Mike McLatchey, Published 2001-03-01

Filed under: New releases, Issue 21, 2000 releases

Related artist(s): Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Ken Field

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